Sunday, 22 March 2015

Early Modern Knitting at the Clothworkers’ Centre for the Study and Conservation of Textiles and Fashion



On Friday I visited, The Clothworkers' Centre for the Study and Conservation of Textiles and Fashion, with a group from the Knitting History Forum. The Clothworkers’ Centre is the Victoria and Albert Museum’s storage facility in London, and any group can make an appointment to see material in store. There were about eight of us and some of us had made suggestions as to what knitted items we would like to see, ranging from the 16th century to the 20th century. We saw five items that I was particularly interested in. Because of copyright restrictions I can’t post the photographs that I took, but I have made links to the museums records, and to the right is a photograph looking across one of the tables that had been laid out for us, with the early 17th century jacket and the mid 17th century boothose. I recommend anyone, or group, with an interest in a particular area of clothing or fashion to make an appointment to see things that are in store, they are incredibly helpful. All the details are on the website. The items we saw included:

From the 16th century, the Triple layer cap No 1562&A-1901. I’ve seen lots of these knitted caps, but I don’t think I’ve seen one with three layers before, and the colour is a beautiful rich brown. The museum says it was found in a house in Worship Street, London. Worship Street runs from City Road east towards Spitalfields. If it was found then I assume it was not excavated. The Museum of London has a considerable collection of these types of cap mostly excavated. 

From the early 17th century an Italian silk knitted jacket  473-1893. The museum dates this to 1600-20, while Sandy Black in her book (2012) dates it to 1625-1650. It is very fine knitted in blue silk, blue silk covered with silver and yellow silk covered with silver. It is sized for a small person, under the armpits it is only about 78 cm (31 inches) round, at the bottom it is about 102 cm (40 inches). In length it is about 65 cm ( 25.5 inches). The bottom edging is a basket weave created by knitting alternate blocks of stocking stitch and reverse stocking stitch. Up the front of the jacket there is a linen strip containing the buttonholes for the 42 buttons.The turnback cuffs are kept in place with a stitch.


From the mid 17th century a pair of knitted woollen boot hose, T.63 & A-1910. These were knitted in two ply wool from the top down. In required casting on 375 stitches. The decoration of the boot hose top includes bands of cream wool alternating with bands of dark blue wool. The cream bands also have diamond patterns worked in purl stitch. After about 30cm the width of the boot hose top is brought down to leg size with rapid decreasing. Then at the top of the leg there is a roughly 10cm deep band of what looks like 4k, 5 purl rib.  At the ankle some of the blue decoration is knitted and some is embroidered. The foot is about 25-26cm (10 inches) long. Sandy Black has the gauge as 11 stitches and 21 rows to 2.5cm.

From the second half of the 17th century we had a cotton baby jacket  T.30-1932. This looks like you could go out and buy it from a baby shop today. Several of these early knitted baby jackets survive and there is a table of survivals with references in Ruth Gilbert’s article (2012)  on a similar garment. There are decorative panels in knit and purl stitch along the bottom, either side of the centre front, at the centre back, along the length of the sleeves, and around the armholes.

From the early 18th century we had a Dutch petticoat T.177-1926, hand knitted in 2 ply wool. So, first cast on 2650 stitches, I would think that is enough to put anyone off. The finished garment is 312cm (10 feet 5 inches) round, and 77.5cm (10 inches) deep.  It is knitted at 88 stitches to 10 cm (4 inches). (Rutt, 1987) The petticoat is covered in motifs, the group stood around it pointing out obvious peacocks, camels, lions, monkeys, horses, toucans, and several less identifiable animals. 

Black, S., 2012. Knitting: fashion, industry, craft. London: V&A Publishing.
Gilbert, R., 2012. A knitted cotton jacket in the collection of the Knitting and Crochet Guild of Great Britain. Textile History, 43(1), pp. 90-106.
Rutt, R., 1987. A history of handknitting.. London: Batsford.

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